The second shift for women is true everywhere in India, but especially so in Kerala, where the 100 percent literacy rate and high number of working women blur the optics. Middle-class women wake up early, make breakfast and lunch boxes, take a bus and go to work only to return and sweep, cook some more and tackle the kids’ homework, reluctant to go to the bedroom where sex without foreplay waits.
Sons and sons-in-law are gods, fathers and uncles decide female lives. Which is as it is in the rest of the country, so no surprise there. The tweak lies not in the daily invisible acts of violence against women, but their unquestioning acceptance of it and reluctance to create change. Men are obviously enjoying the perks, but the women seem blind to the privileged class that they themselves enable.
The exodus to the Middle East in the 80s and 90s for employment opportunities saw breadwinner women sending money home while husbands dabbled in petty jobs. But to hand over household administration reins to female hands would mean a particular type of emasculation that neither gender could handle at that juncture. So the cinema of the moment, with its subtle feminist nudges, is as cooling as a monsoon shower. Female freedom is literally being fought in a liquid battlefield.
After the militant feminism in 22 Female Kottayam, complete with elaborate castration scenes, Malayalam cinema has calmed down somewhat to make practical—and fluid—suggestions on the misogyny front. If actor Rima Kallingal shook us awake as a vengeful Eve, today’s scene-stealers are more insidious; they execute their revenge in an everyday manner. Instead of a male deliberately villainous, we see the evil in the atmosphere, in the upbringing, in the ‘we know best’ protectiveness of the perpetrators. It is all by the way, not personal.
Bustling women dominate kitchens chopping and grinding, while men read the papers and talk about politics. They leave the dining table a mess and don’t stay back to serve the women who had been serving them. In The Great Indian Kitchen Nimisha Sajayan takes on dishwater and wins—it is both enemy and weapon of choice.
Both the new Malayalam films, The Great Indian Kitchen and Joji, have women telling men who ask for a glass of water where exactly water and glasses are kept—turns out not in secret hiding places at all but in plain public view. The nameless bride played by Nimisha in the former barks at her young brother to get water for himself when he asks for it on autopilot. Bincy tells brother-in-law Joji in the latter, here is the fridge and here are the bottles of water in it, see.
Boy or girl, anyone can pour water it seems.